What is cardiorespiratory performance?
Simply put, it is the ability of your heart and lungs (together) to gather and deliver cellular fuel (like oxygen, nutrients, and hormones) to, and remove cellular wastes from, every cell of the body. The measurement of this performance is called your cardiorespiratory endurance. Or just “endurance” for short.
Now, you may think that only “endurance athletes” need to worry about all this. But… No. They definitely do, but that doesn’t mean it is unimportant for everyone else.
“People can get by without high levels of physical strength and flexibility, but we cannot do without a good cardiorespiratory system, facilitated by exercise.
Aerobic exercise is especially important in preventing cardiovascular disease. A poorly conditioned heart, which has to pump more often just to keep a person alive, is subject to more wear and tear than a well-conditioned heart.” – National Association for Fitness Certification
Any person who increases the capabilities of their own cardiorespiratory system, thereby increases the underlying systems that power their outward performance when they participate in any activity. Sports, hobbies, recreation, or any other circumstance or activity. From getting out of a chair, to flipping across a gymnastics studio, to running and cycling the extreme distances that these people sometimes achieve in the most elite races in the world. The heart and lungs drive it all. Even heavier weightlifting, which is anaerobic, is still enhanced by increased cardiorespiratory endurance in the form of increased capacity to exercise in general, allowing more vigorous attempts that lead to greater gains and smoother recovery.
Translation: If you get your heart and lungs heathier and more capable, you will be more efficient at anything you try to do. You’ll be able to exercise harder, for longer – safely. Less injuries due to overtraining and fatigue, and higher performance capabilities means YOU HIT YOUR GOALS FASTER.
Pssht. I train already. I’m sure my cardiorespiratory health is fine.
Maybe you’re familiar with, and even train for muscular size and/or definition. Possibly you do or have trained to achieve stronger muscles, or to become more flexible.
But the systems that drove your ability to perform those workouts (or even get out of bed to care about it) are what comprise your cardiorespiratory system. Unfortunately, a much-overlooked health factor by many.
Think of it like this: Achieving better heart and lung performance means that (in effect) you upgrade your body’s “engine + carburetor + fuel pump + exhaust system”. If you did this in a car, your entire car is more capable at anything it then tries to do, right? You can cruise at a steady clip with less RPM’s, you can accelerate from a stop with more ease, and create less wear and tear because you generally must abuse the machinery less to get the same result. Or, you can go faster possibly. You have increased PERFORMANCE CAPACITY.
In the metaphor above, your “car” is your body, and whatever sport, hobby, or recreation you are passionate about, as well as your personal and professional tasks and obligations, are what your “car” then might try to do.
To upgrade your heart and lungs means to be less stressed, and more capable in anything you try to do.
And, all of that applies even more specifically to those who attend to these system upgrades with intelligent and accurate data that provides critical insights into your personal cardiorespiratory system.
Not to worry, though, if you’re barely even able to walk a mile currently. As with any other adaptation you attempt to create by exercising or practicing— like building strength, refining motor skills, increasing your ability to produce explosive power, and becoming more flexible — you can improve your cardiorespiratory endurance by stressing your systems appropriately, and recovering to match it.. Here’s a look at how that works, and how you can do it:
The Stress Adaptation Response gets you your gains.
The way the human body works is that if it senses a stimulus (your training), it tries to adapt the systems that you strained, so that they don’t get as strained under the same effort next time it occurs. Example: If you lift a heavier weight than normal, the body then makes that muscle a little stronger and/or bigger to deal with that increased load next time.
This is called the “Stress Adaptation Response” and is responsible for creating our gains in performance capability and personal resilience.
So then, to increase the maximum capacity of your heart and lungs in operation with each other, you need to spend repeated amounts of time training at levels around that maximum threshold of those systems, and naturally the body will become more efficient there, and raise that maximum a little bit.
Problem is, just going all-out as much as possible isn’t nearly optimal. You risk overtraining, injury, lowered immune response leading to illness, mood disruptions, and what’s worse is all these setbacks can end up causing loss of internal motivation (burnout).
How to stimulate your body to adapt to your goals.
To get the body to adapt and up-level the cardiorespiratory system, you need to train specifically for the desired adaptation. You need to get your heart pumping and your lungs working close to their upper levels with structured planning, which will take aerobic activity like cycling, distance running, or interval training. Some other examples are jumping rope, climbing stairs, calisthenics, or anything that takes a prolonged effort by your heart and lungs to sustain.
Weightlifting gets your body and muscles stressed, creates strength and body composition improvements, and can even make you huff and puff, but it is anaerobic unless structured to create continuous strain on the heart and lungs as in the example of circuit training.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following as the minimum amount of exercise for adults: two strength-training workouts and either 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (steady-state exercise, like distance running) or 1 hour and 15 minutes of high-intensity aerobic exercise (interval training, like HIIT) per week.
This is for the health of the general public, but we’re about to get specific, and measurable, in order to help you meet your goals.
Your personalized action plan for crushing your cardiorespiratory goals.
There are coaches, trainers, doctors, and many people that can tell you the formulas to achieve your desired cardiorespiratory results. If you have one of the above, feel free to ask them how they recommend you train for your desired goals.
Alternatively, you can get free training plans based on desired adaptations for your cardiorespiratory system at Zwift by following this link: www.whatsonzwift.com/workouts
I took a screenshot of an example (below), but you can select plans that help raise your thresholds, like VO2 max specifically, or FTP/iAT specifically. Etc… and they can be filtered by activity, time available to exercise, and more.
The free plans list time and order that you need to spend in each respective heart rate zone during the workout based on % of FTP.
(FTP) Functional Threshold Power = the power you can sustain (for about an hour, is the measurement qualifier).
That is the same description as your iAT: ” The point that you should be able to perform, no longer than “about an hour”, but describes the pace at which you were performing when you crossed your anaerobic threshold.
To get specific, you can dive into the ambiotex® web-based dashboard and review the data from your performance test. This will reveal the actual power/speed you were producing at the point where you hit your lactate threshold, and thus revealing your FTP number for both running and cycling.
Cycling FTP is a direct number revealed as the power produced at the time you crossed the lactate threshold heart rate.
Running “FTP” if you want to use this same chart is using the same tested conditions as when you run your performance test, so you would recreate the settings:
(1.5% incline, and “X” MPH (wherever you crossed your threshold) = FTP.
For example: 90% FTP for 3 minutes would be that you train at 90% of your pace when you tested your individual anaerobic threshold last… and keep it there for three minutes.
This is the first green interval you see.
Get familiar with your data.
Creating a structured training plan around your desired result will get you there the fastest. As stated, there are many resources that you can find to help achieve this, but for all of them you are going to need some reference points.
YOUR metabolic DATA.
Currently, Pro’s get this data from expensive and invasive laboratory testing, like performing VO2 max and blood lactate tests to determine their individual anaerobic threshold and VO2 max levels in relation to their personal heartrate currently. But the tide is turning on lab tests for this as more technology is developed and becomes available.
(*Note – there are several other terms for the same thing: anaerobic threshold (AT), lactate threshold (LT), maximal lactate steady state (MLSS), and onset of blood lactate (OBLA). I’ll use the term individual anaerobic threshold (iAT) for my explanation because I am talking to you individually.)
This article breaks it DOWN! (www.active.com/triathlon/articles/lactate-threshold-and-v02-max-explained)
Here’s how YOU can get your data.
- You can go to a laboratory that tests these things. You’ll want to compare your data at somewhat regular intervals, so like the above article said, try to find a place that gives you a logical deal for a package of testing so that the tests will have relevance for you to see your training progression (or lack thereof) over time. This can vary in price from $100-$300 per test, with at least three needed.
- You can get your data from a system called PNOE Analytics. They offer a portable system that straps on your back and over your mouth while you train to test different things with their original tests. They don’t quantify anything about heart rate though. They measure the components of breath. The units are geared toward business usage or health clinic practices and are pricey for an average enthusiast. Around $6000 (+ subscription).
- You can get a blood lactate measurement device yourself, and have a qualified assistant take 4-6 blood samples from you at home while you hit specified markers of time and exertion on a cycle or treadmill. This is essentially performing a home version of the lab test above in the first bullet point, and that can give you your individual anaerobic threshold (iAT) if you know what the blood lactate measurements mean, or know someone who does. The portable blood lactate monitor averages about $300, and the test blood strips are a few dollars for enough to complete one test. You’ll need to buy them when you wish to take a measurement.
- You can use ambiotex VitalShirt + Tech-Unit. This is a new-to-market wearable technology that provides multiple functions relating to cardiorespiratory health and performance, including stress levels based on Heart Rate Variability. Scientifically substantiated by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, and provides the above stated tests of individual anaerobic threshold (iAT), VO2 max, your personal metabolic heartrate zones, and HRV “Stress Tests” that can tell you how capable your body is at handling physical and mental stress that day, allowing you to avoid frustrating training plateaus, illnesses, and injuries.
These calculations are taken from sensors that are integrated into a high-quality sports compression shirt and transmitted to a free app via Bluetooth. This happens from the accompanying Tech-Unit that users buy in the initial purchase of a Starter Kit, which connects with magnetic buttons to the front of the VitalShirt. These units are $299 for a Starter Kit, and $78/additional VitalShirt. You only use one Tech-Unit across all your different VitalShirts, so that you can wash and rotate them. (Learn more at https://www.vitalperformancegear.com/product-page-ambiotex , or www.ambiotex.com/EN )
Go forth, optimize, and excel!
By taking control of your data, and understanding how and when to push your body safely and effectively, you can know when to push, and when to recover, and remain in constant progression towards your goals.
To your everlasting ENDURANCE,